I am happy to report that some of the best news coming out of San Jose State this summer has involved students in the College of Science. In the Department of Physics and Astronomy, undergraduate students Richard Vo and Michael Sandoval made headlines when it was announced that ech of them had discovered previously unknown ultracompact dwarf galaxies. Both students are doing research with Assistant Professor Aaron Romanowsky, whose research focus is computational astrophysics. Vo, the youngest of 10 children from a South San Jose family, was already a physics major when he took Romanowsky’s computational methods class. He was enthralled by the use of digital data to solve astronomical problems and approached Romanowsky about doing research under his guidance. The first problem Romanowsky tasked Vo with was using computational data to locate a very dense galaxy that Romanowsky and a research team had been studying. Vo completed that task and, in the process, discovered a previously undetected ultra-compact galaxy even denser than the one his faculty mentor was working on. Last spring, Vo was able to visit the Keck Observatory in Hawaii to view his discovery directly.
Sandoval, who was taking Romanowsky’s class with Vo, was excited by his colleague’s discovery and asked if he too could enter the hunt. After going through the same steep learning curve Vo experienced mastering the computational astrophysics software, Sandoval, beyond all expectations, located another galaxy even more compact than the one Vo found. Finding such a singular astronomical object could easily be the crowning moment of an astronomer’s career. To have two undergraduate research students succeed in finding hyperdense galaxies is a testament to Romanowsky’s skills as a research mentor and to the determination and persistence of his two students. The trio are currently collaborating on a research paper to share their results with the astronomical committee. Vo started this fall as a graduate student at San Francisco State while Sandoval is currently finishing up his program here at SJSU.
Over at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, graduate student Paul Clerkin has been getting international notice for making a series of very different discoveries. Working under Dr. David Ebert at the Pacific Shark Research Center, Clerkin has done extsnsive field work in the Indian Ocean looking for previously unknown shark species. His first season yielded eight new species, and he anticipates that at least three will come from the second voyage last summer. Clerkin, who grew up watching the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, has now emerged as a very articulate and enthusiastic shark hunter on the same channel, and he was featured earlier this month in a front page article in the San Jose Mercury News.
Both of these stories emphasize the importance of student research at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and the importance of our faculty’s roles as research mentors. Not only do their research programs inform their teaching and contribute significantly to the body of reasearh in their chosen fields, but they also provide inspiration and opportunities for the scientists of the future we train here in the College of Science.